Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Democratic November Hopes Hang on Thin Reed of PA-12

It's fascinating that most of the election attention this afternoon is focused on yesterday's special election in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district.

The New York Times wasted no time to advance the left's meme going forward, "
Democrats See Hope for Fall in Victory in House Race." And not to be outdone is CSM, "PA-12: A template for Democrats in November election?" Plus, I already commented on the partisan chest-thumping from Steve Benen and Matthew Yglesias ("the world's dumbest blogger"), although I missed Daniel Larison's whiney screed attacking the GOP as "the more unpopular, discredited party." I'll admit Larison has a point that Republicans ought to be careful about "nationalizing" congressional elections. For example, as I wrote in April:
... congressional elections aren't generally national referendums. The president almost always loses seats in the midterms. And this year will be no different ... we're talking individual House and Senate races around the country ... It's a tough political environment for both parties, which is something the tea parties frequently remind stupid RINOs.

Contrast my comment to Tim Burns' electoral message:

Doesn't sound quite so attuned to local constituency preferences, although to be fair, I wasn't doing shoe-level reporting on the ground either.

Still, Larison --- inveterate America-basher that he is --- is not to be trusted with any meaningful "big picture" takeaway from the Mark Critz victory.

What stuck me as most fascinating is the registration differential in Murtha's old district (
said to be a 2-1 Democratic advantage). As Michael Barone notes, "the electorate in the 12th special election consisted of almost twice as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans." And what's especially striking is the fact of PA-12 super-favorable partisan gerrymandering, obviously boosting Democratic opportunities. Or as Ruby Slippers notes:
Murtha's district had been carved up and served on a platter to ensure his continual re-election. The District's R+1 rating comes only because the district voted for McCain in 2008 while it voted for Kerry in 2004. Democrats would have us believe the District has trended Republican over those four years while the rest of the country had their fill of Bush and the GOP. The Democrats and the cheerleading media want us to forget they believed Obama lost this district because it was filled with racist rednecks.


I'm not familiar with the territory, but just looking at the map, the burghs in this district look like big steelworker-union towns, and hence heavily Democratic in orientation. Elbridge Gerry would be proud. Seriously, look at that thing. It's almost a joke for the national press corps to trumpet a GOP collapse. Tim Burns had his work cut out for him, and frankly, perhaps he misread the tea leaves.

That said, while there's no doubt Democrats can take some heart here, I'd refer folks over to The Monkey Cage, "
What do Tuesday's elections tell us about November?":
My quick answer is that you can’t learn much from primary elections. They can be important in their effects—both directly on the composition of Congress and indirectly in how they can affect behavior of congressmembers who might be scared of being challenged in future primaries—but I don’t see them as very informative indicators of the general election vote. Primaries are inherently unpredictable and are generally decided by completely different factors, and from completely different electorates, than those that decide general elections.
It's a given that the GOP can take some lessons from PA-12 (and I doubt the NRCC's $1 million spent on behalf of Burns was a wise investment). But on the whole, my sense is that the overall anti-incumbency backlash continues, the Dems are totally freaked, and they're looking for some comfort in Critz's victory. It's a thin reed, but it's about all they've got.


MarySue said...

Thanks for the link Donald! It's a total joke that this was a must-win. I have been thinking about this election all day. Look at that map, they cobbled that thing together for a reason.

Here is one thing people don't often point out, that district is likely to disappear after the census is complete. The Pennsylvania State legislature is trending Republican, they are the ones who will axe the district. Even if we won, it would be a short-lived victory.

I do think we have to look at messaging and GOTV in these elections. Spending a million here was a waste as you rightly pointed out. We could have performed better in this district but I am not sure it was winnable let alone stacked in our favor.

Sarge Charlie said...

Damn, that looks like Alcee Hastings' (my congressman) district, it is drawn to take in every black area in SE Florida, I happen to live in an area donomiated by Jewish people, they always vote the dreaded D word.